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Bzz..klik: Insect with a gearbox?

2013-09-16 13:12

NATURE'S MANUAL GEARBOX: The Issus is the first example of a natural cog/gear mechanism with an observable function, reports a study. Image: YouTube

We've seen cars with bug eyes but how about bugs with gearboxes? A plant-hopping insect has hind-leg joints with curved cogs that rotate like mechanical gears.

LONDON, England - Issus Coleoptratus, a plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe, has hind-leg joints with curved cogs of interlocking-teeth. The strips rotate like mechanical gears to synchronise the insect's legs before it jumps.

Seriously, it's an insect with a gearbox! The Issus' gears bear remarkable resemblance to those found in a vehicle transmission.

Video: Working gears in plant-hopping insect

The findings are the result of a study published in 2013 by the University of Cambridge titled "Interacting Gears Synchronize Propulsive Leg Movements in a Jumping Insect," by Malcolm Burrows in 2013.

MECHANICAL GEARING IN NATURE

According to the academic journal Science, experts believe this is "the first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure".

The teeth on the opposing hind-legs lock together to ensure synchronicity and according to the study, "the legs move within 30 microseconds of each other." A microsecond is equal to a millionth of a second.

Each gear strip is about 400 micrometres long and consists of 10 to 12 teeth. The gears on each leg contain the same number of teeth giving the Issus a gearing ratio of 1:1.

Synchronisation is vital for the powerful jumps of which the insect is capable of since a minor discrepancy could cause it to spin out of control.

Burrows said: "This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight co-ordination required."

"By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force - then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock and synchronise the legs.

Interestingly, the gears are only found in the insect's juvenile/nymph stages and are lost in adulthood. Scientists believe the larger adults might be able to create enough to power to leap without the need for gears.






 
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